Frank Grillo has become a very busy man in Hollywood, as the 55-year-old actor carved out quite the niche for himself in the world of action movies. Following a run in the MCU as Crossbones and as the lead in The Purge franchise, Grillo partnered with director Joe Carnahan on a production company, War Party Films, with one mission in mind: bring back the short, fun, and relatively cheap to make action movie genre that dominated in the 80s.
The latest from them is Boss Level, starring Grillo, Mel Gibson, and Naomi Watts, and his love of sports and fighting comes in with some of the supporting cast, which includes Rob Gronkowski, Rampage Jackson, and Rashad Evans. Ahead of the movie’s release on Hulu on March 5, Grillo spoke with Uproxx about the long journey to get this movie out, his love of boxing and how it’s guided his career, why sometimes it’s important to make a fun action movie that doesn’t make total sense, playing with Hollywood toys like “Car Shooters,” and discussions for him to return to The Purge.
How did you get into boxing when you were younger and how has that been a part of your life, really throughout this journey into the acting world?
I got into boxing when I was a little kid. I first got into boxing at the CYO at the church, when I was like 12 or 13 years old. And really liked it, but didn’t like getting punched in the face.
And then you know I wrestled in school, and that got me into martial arts. I started doing Muay Thai a bit, and then I got back into boxing about 17 and I never stopped. Look for me boxing, I hate to say this, it’s a terrible cliche, but it really is a metaphor for life. I mean, it really is for me. I box every day. Sometimes I take my boxing trainer on movie sets with me. If I don’t, I find the best boxing trainers through my friends. The good thing about my life now is I have a lot of access. So, you know, boxing to me is as important as breathing.
You mentioned you do martial arts and stuff like that, but why do you always come back to boxing?
I think there’s something about boxing, which to me is like — and Jiu Jitsu for me it was a little bit like this but boxing, much more so — it’s like chess. It’s as intellectual as it is physical. And, you know, it’s also a little bit like golf, one day you get up there you’re throwing up beautiful left hook, and the next day, I’m sparring and I feel like I’m boxing the wrong way. And so that element of constantly trying to perfect is what gets me excited.
It’s interesting you mention that because I golf as well, and I’ve never really thought of the parallels there but it is, because it’s this constant quest of … perfection can never come in either sport, you’re never going to be able to do it, but you get that taste of it that one time and you’re like “I can replicate this.”
You know, I often say to my sons and to younger people, it’s not about achieving perfection. It’s the pursuit of perfection. And that’s where you learn so much about yourself, about life, about other people, and then about what you’re doing, obviously.
And I think there’s a parallel there with making any kind of art, is you’re also doing the same thing, right? When you make a movie, you’re always chasing that perfect take, but like it’s it’s never going to be maybe exactly there but when you get that feeling, it’s kind of the same thing, right?
Absolutely the same. That’s a great analogy and, you know, it’s also the discipline of never giving up, of not quitting, sports or fighting. You know, I box with a lot of Mexicans. They don’t quit. They don’t even like to step backwards. You know so many people that I came up with an acting, at my age, are gone. They never made it because they left. It wasn’t that they weren’t talented, it’s that they didn’t have the wherewithal to stay in it. I think through boxing and martial arts, that discipline has given me the discipline to continue in this career, and it’s … look, I’ve carved out a bit of a niche for myself and it’s worked.
I read an interview you did, I think back in 2016, with one of my colleagues Mike Ryan, where you talked about that. Where you were 50 and you were finally kind of finding this level of fame that you hadn’t been in before. And that doesn’t happen for a lot of guys, but it is that discipline, that willing to grind for 20 years to get to this point, right?
Exactly. And you know it’s sweet. Victory is sweet when you’re old, and you’re like, “Wow, this happened.” By the way, I don’t even know if what I’m professing is bullshit. It’s like, maybe what I’m saying is wrong. Maybe you should quit and go do something else. You know what I mean, like, “I actually was right!” for once.
Even this movie here with Boss Level having gone through some delays in the studio change and all of that. What is it like finally getting to see this come out after the labor of love that you’ve had to put into this to finally get to see this coming out on Hulu next month?
Yeah, I mean, to me, it could not have had a better ending. Given the circumstances that we’ve been in over the last year — this is a movie we tried to make nine, ten years ago, and then we thought, aw, we can’t get a break. Then finally we did make the movie and it went from 43 days to 27 days we had to make it. So we’re like, we can’t get a break. And then we sometimes didn’t have enough money to finish something, and, we can’t get a break. And then COVID happens and we lose our distribution, we can’t get a break right?!
Guess what. Now, we’re partnering with Hulu. Hulu buys the movie. They’re distributing the movie all over the United States and North America. They’re putting billboards up, they’re doing great advertising. Because of COVID, there are no more movie theaters. We’re gonna have more eyes on this movie than we would ever have had. So guess what, we did get a break. But if you give up along that way, this movie could have been in the trash bin somewhere. I don’t know, right? It could have just as easily fallen apart, but [Joe] Carnahan and I did not quit. We knew we had something that was watchable, you know? And it turned out like the movie gods were on our side from the beginning.
Something that I really enjoyed, I think this is gonna be really good from the streaming aspect. Because when I’m looking for something to watch, I don’t often have two and a half hours for like a Tenet, or whatever. Like if I’m trying to watch a movie at 9 p.m on a weeknight, I don’t want something that’s ending at midnight. And I love these action movies that are in that 90 to 100 minute window. They’re fun, they’re to the point. Is that something that y’all were going for with this?
Yeah. So we started our company with a movie called Wheelman, which is basically me in a car for 88 minutes. It’s nonstop from beginning to end. And it was a big hit for Netflix. It was our first movie we made as our company, War Party. And that’s when the light went off. And our mission statement is to make these kind of movies, elevated action genre, and make them for a reasonable budget. And just put people at rest for 80-90 minutes, so we’re … you know in Tenet, I was watching Tenet, brilliant movie, but I got lost! I’m like, you know what, I don’t want to think this much! It’s too much! I want something a little mindless.
Right and there’s sometimes you just want that. Like it’s one of the reasons you go back and you watch the same sitcom that you’ve watched before. It’s kind of the same idea.
How many times would Die Hard come on, that you watch from where it is, man? It’s because I can sit back, I could stop thinking, and it entertains me.
When you’re putting a movie like that together obviously you have things that you have to kind of tell the audience but you also have to trust your audience to get what you’re doing, right? Because you’re gonna tell the story, you’re gonna give them snippets of like, for five minutes we’re gonna explain the Osiris thing, but you don’t need 40 minutes of storytelling necessarily.
No and, you know, look it’s over the top in every aspect. In the storytelling aspect, in the action aspect, it’s all over the top by design. It’s supposed to be that right and and you got to — the audience, from the minute you see me, you got to suspend disbelief. You just have to. You just gotta get on the roller coaster, and you gotta know, as dangerous as it looks, you’re going to be able to get back to this place and get off the roller coaster. I mean, that’s what this movie is. I’m gonna sit down. I’m gonna watch it. It’s not going to make sense in places, I’m gonna laugh, and maybe I’ll even cry a little bit, and then I’ll get off of it. You know what I mean? That’s what this is.
I don’t think this is really a spoiler, but you die a lot in this movie.
Was there a favorite one to shoot, a favorite death in the movie that like you particularly enjoyed? Because I know there’s a couple for me.
Yeah, a lot of them were fun but when I got harpooned [laughs], I was like wow we’re really pulling out all the stops here. But Joe Carnahan is a maniac, so.
I like how y’all steered into some of the absurd and also, there would be times where you think you’re gonna get to this place and then you run your car into a concrete wall.
Like I appreciated that. I really do.
How about, you know when the car went flying over the fence? So, there was actually an apparatus in the movie business called a Car Shooter, and you put it in this apparatus —
Like a Hot Wheels.
Yeah and as soon as we saw it, we were like, we got to use this! This is amazing! [laughs]
You’re just like finding toys to play with. That’s awesome. It’s a fun movie, it’s one that you can just kind of like pop in and watch in 90 minutes. You mentioned this has been the mission statement. Was there a point where you, you realize like there’s a there’s a niche for these movies and we can really kind of tap into this and carve out this space for ourselves?
Yeah, that’s a great question and and without knowing — a lot of people don’t know a lot about the business – big studios, they’re in the theatrical film business. So your film has to be theatrical. In other words, they want to spend a lot of money. They do. And our mission statement is to make movies under $20 million, but that looked like they’re $50 million. And there’s not a lot of people doing it. And so, what we learned is, as we became more successful with each film, people were coming to us and saying, “do you want to be in business?” Like, people that are very established because, like, “we’re not in this business, but we want to be in this business, do you want to work with us? Do you want to produce this with us? Do you want to make this for us?”
And so we’re like, wait a minute we accidentally stumbled on something, because this whole genre that was big in the 80s, it’s gone. And I have a partner in Joe Carnahan that is brilliant at making them. He did the movie Smoking Aces and A-Team, and he knows how to execute this at a reasonable budget. That’s when people aren’t used to anymore.
What are things that you’re looking for in the future. Do you have ideas for kind of where you can continue to take this and expand it? Would you be interested in maybe expanding this into like the sport genre and fight movies?
You know absolutely we consider the sports genre, which I think is very tricky. I don’t see a lot of good sports movies.
No, it’s hard to do right.
My buddy Gavin O’Connor made Warrior and also made Miracle, which I thought was amazing film. But we’re now in the process of, we have we just finished a movie called Cop Shop that Joe Carnahan directed that stars Gerard Butler and myself. So we just finished that, so we have that coming out after Boss Level. But now we’re like, now we’re looking at what to do and how to expand what we do, into maybe, the sport genre, and even some horror. If we can find some cool horror, and we can do it right. Like I did the a bunch of those Purge movies, we made those for 9 million bucks.
And those were also in that same vein of fun, 90-100 minutes movies. I remember they came out — I go to NBA Summer League in Las Vegas each year — and I remember Anarchy and Election Year both came out while we were there. We would go to the theater like in the middle of the day because we were tired of watching shitty basketball and we were also tired of losing money, and like the matinee price in Vegas like $5.25 so a bunch of us would just go and watch the Purge movies.
I love it! I mean, again, you know what it is. You sit there, it starts immediately, and it doesn’t end until the credits come on. And it’s like, wait a minute, that was great. Okay, I’m good. Me and James DeMonaco, we’re talking about Purge 6. Because he wasn’t involved in the last two, he just was producing on ’em. And we’re thinking about bringing my character back for Purge 6 and doing a whole kind of Avengers: Endgame-ish thing in the Purge world.
Oh! Well, I’ll be there, trust me.
[laughs] I love it.